Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Can dictionaries list 'to google' as a verb?

Sheesh, I barely kick off this blog with a trivial little post, and then here comes a big legal issue (involving a Verb, no less, but fortunately not a relative). The post here is from a German "magazine for brand name owners", and shows that Duden, the authority on German language, has CHANGED its definition to googeln 'to google' under pressure from Google over a trademark issue (see the link for details). The article rightly argues:
The linguistic authority of dictionaries, especially Duden, must come to be viewed with uncertainty. When trademark lawyers can influence dictionary definitions and a dictionary editor can permit an alteration of a definition, the believability of language bibles is bound to suffer.
It's a simple fact that to google and googeln are the common ways of saying 'to search the internet', and typically but not necessarily using google.com. (In fact, when I suggest to students that they look around for something on the web, I hope they try a variety of search engines, but I still use that same verb.)

Anybody remember when Dan Quayle, then a US Senator, tried to pass a resolution to change the dictionary meaning of 'Hoosier'? That was stupid and was widely recognized as such. If publishers like Duden cave in here, this seems like a potential threat to producing accurate references works. Is this just one of those situations where Duden made a business decision not to stand up for what is clearly right?


Oscar Madison said...

It's a bad moral and dictionary decision by the dudes (duden?) at Duden. But it also seems like a bad business decision by Google. Doesn't it help Coca Cola that everyone uses "coke" as a generic term for soft drink? It's like built in advertizing for your product.

Maybe dictionaries should retaliate by trying to promote competing name brands as generic terms for internet searches: "ask-dot-com-it" or "metacrawl-it" or something.

(I didn't see the link to the Google story, BTW.)

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, these Dudes/Duden screwed up. Since posting that, I've seen a note from a well-known lexicographer saying that they've struggled with this for a long time. He says dictionary makers usually just ignore the warnings. And he argues that becoming a generic term is great for a start-up, but damages brand identity for a dominant one.

I like the notion of 'to ask-dot-com'. Of course, in choosing 'Ask' as a company name, they've chosen a super-generic verb, which adds a new layer here -- could they even try to pressure dictionaries if 'to ask' become the new word for 'to google'?

The link was in the subject line, by the way, but it's now a regular link. Rookie error.